Friday, 13 December 2013

Ever Wondered What It Would Be Like To Work in Zara on Oxford Street?

This summer, I dedicated my time away from University to getting a job and earning some money. After several interviews at their Head Recruitment Office, I finally got offered a job with one of Zara's shops on Oxford Street.
It is owned by the spanish company Inditex, which is the number one leading brand in the world. It also owns the populars Zara Home, Oysho, Stradivarius, Bershka, Pull and Bear, Massimo Dutti and Uterique.  Although the offer was not for the branch that I was hoping for close to home, the idea of working on Oxford Street completely won me over.

This was my first ever part-time job. My contract was 20 hours and in the first 4 days, I worked 40 hours. I was given 4 1-10pm shifts each day. This meant that I got ready for work at 10.00am, left my home to commute into Central London at 11.30am, arrived at Bond Street at 12.30pm and started work on the shop floor for 12.50pm. This also meant that I wouldn't arrive home until about 11.45pm, depending on how late they let us out. The shift rota was put together a month in advance and if you couldn't do a shift it was your responsibility to find someone else's to swop and ask them and the manager for confirmation. Nearly all of my shifts were 1-10pm and once the rota was done, that was it.
My job was a Sales Assistant. We started work with a briefing ten minutes before our shift started with our line manager. At Zara, we had several managers. Three to be exact. One was English, one was Spanish and the other Polish. The majority of people working at Zara are Spanish. Naturally, as the company is Spanish however this does not make team-work so easy with the strong, fast accents over radios ear pieces when you have people wanting help from you at the same time. We were given these in the fitting rooms which made communication easier with the vast number of customers and the high demands of questions and updates.
Working at Zara was like being a mother trying to satisfy 10 children at once. The responsibilities were endless. They involved keeping the shop floor spotless, telling our Visual Merchandisers that the items need replenishing, asking the customers if they needed anything, collecting truck-loads of clothes (this is not an exaggeration) from the fitting room every 5 minutes, responding to customers asking me for a different size, to find them an outfit, to check if they have anymore stock of an item, to check the price of an item,  to find them an item they saw in another branch, to phone another branch or check the computer for more stock, all whilst trying to stay calm and polite.  And yes, these tasks were all within minutes of each other for 8 hours a day. There were times that things quietened down. The floods of tourists and londoners would come in waves - how they would demolish and up-turn all our neatly folded t-shirts and jumpers within minutes of being re-done I will still never know.
The perks of this job were working on Oxford Street and being a part of the hustle and bustle of London life that I have always loved. I also enjoyed representing a leading brand with great clothes and the large amount of customers in the store meant that it was a shop that they loved too. The customers slowly grew more annoying in my eyes. In my first few weeks, I was happy to confess that I was new and so the customers were therefore more sympathetic towards my lack of knowledge towards my uncertainty. I also worked in Menswear, which meant that most of my customers were Male. As a 19 year old female, my conversations with my male customers varied from rude to perverted with a friendly somewhere in between. There were men who asked how old I was and how did I get the job as they wanted their son to do the same - adding that I'm sure a beautiful girl like me had no problem getting the job. It was my job to be helpful and polite to customers by advising them to pick the right size and  and pick a style or colour that would suit them best. I don't think one man understood that this service did not stretch as far as joining him in his fitting room...

On one occasion, an old man and his son were looking for several suits for a wedding. I ended up being his personal stylist for half an hour and when I was told off for helping him by a lovely colleague of mine, he pestered me for my contact details so that I could work in Marketing at his hotel in Oman. The shops in London obviously receive a lot of well-off customers so I felt privileged at times to be helping someone who was going to end up buying 5 full-suits, 3 cardigans and 2 pairs of shoes all in one fitting.
My colleagues at Zara were all lovely except for a handful who made it a nightmare  to work with. In particular, there was one woman who never smiled except for when she was getting on the good side of our Managers by charming them and making them laugh. All day long she was bossy, snooty, you name it, and never missed an opportunity to tell me how to do my job properly. So much so, that she even spoke about me to another colleague over our public radio to make sure that I was closing my section of the store correctly. I found this funny and petty as she'd told me that he didn't do his job properly either. She was vile and I couldn't stand her inability to get her head out of her arse.

And so, one fine evening before I left Zara for good, and after she kept nagging me to do three different things at once with her miserable pursed lips, I politely put her in her place and she left me alone after that.
The standards at Zara were extremely high. If you were a Sales Assistant, or at least a new one, you were assigned a section of the shop and were not allowed to leave your section to go to the stock-room. You needed to ask someone over the radio and the shop floor always had to be immaculate. That meant that replenishment was always in action and in the last 2 hours, the closing of the shop floor began and so all the items had to be sized in order  and with the right number of stock whilst the customers were still shopping.
Some customers were rude, and some customers were lovely. Some colleagues were rude and some were lovely. All in all, it was the best experience but also the most stressful of my life.  I will admit, I had never been happier when I finished just before my contract was due to end.

However, the skills that I took away from working at Zara will last me the rest of my life and gave me the best training for the job that I have now, which is also in retail, and many more in the future.